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Roger Clemens verdict won’t erase the shadow of some doubts

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If I ever lie to Congress about having syringes of human growth hormone injected into my bloodstream, I hope my case is heard in the District of Columbia by a group of jurors I can wink and smile at, people who know my face and what I’ve accomplished in my career, and who are clearly impressed that I am much more famous than they are.

If I ever lie to Congress about having a low-life drug mule puncture my buttocks with performance-enhancing drugs, I hope I have enough money to be represented by a homespun slick lawyer named Rusty, who cross-examines that lowlife whom I employed, and puts enough doubt into the people impressed they get to sit within a few feet of me.

If I ever cheat my profession and tell Texas-sized lies on Capitol Hill, I hope a former co-worker of mine, who had the guts to admit he once used HGH, will contradict his original testimony during my trial. Because not only will someone like Andy Pettitte be useful to my acquittal, heck, I might even tell my wife to invite him back to my cookouts and put him back on the Christmas card list.

When I break down and cry after my lawyer gets me off, like Roger Clemens did after he was acquitted of all perjury charges Monday afternoon, let my supporters believe they are tears of innocence instead of what they really represent: my emotional reaction to knowing I had dodged a self-inflicted beanball that barely missed and very nearly proved I lied to America.

More than a decade after federal agents raided a Bay Area “supplement” company and uncovered mounds of evidence showing that many of our athletic heroes weren’t worthy of adulation — convicted felons such as Marion Jones and Barry Bonds, violent Neanderthals such as Bill Romanowski and dozens of others who taught us not to believe what we see anymore is the simply the result of just authentic grit and work — we have learned two truths:

●Steroids work. They help you obliterate home run records. They win you gold medals. They prolong careers, enabling you to work harder than perhaps the guy who won’t use them, who has been toiling in Class AAA his entire career because he refuses to put pills and needles into his body, because he has enough integrity not to make the major leagues that way.

●And cheating pays. Clemens may be guilty in a court of public opinion — it’s why he wouldn’t dare take questions from the media yesterday after his acquittal — but he made millions of dollars well into his 40s because, I believe, he used HGH to prolong his career. Those extra millions probably helped him hire a lawyer as skilled at breaking down a witness as Rusty Hardin.

“It’s been a hard five years,” the Rocket said on the courthouse steps Monday. “I put a lot of hard work into that career.”

That part is true. I believe Clemens used steroids, even though that was never proven in court. But I also believe he was headed to the Hall of Fame without them. He was a maniacal workout fiend every offseason as he got older and his skills diminished.

I remember him at the Reebok Sports Club in New York City maybe a dozen years ago, sweating away in the steam room after a three-hour marathon workout.

For many like me, Monday’s verdict won’t restore that workmanlike image for Clemens. For us, all it proved was that rich, arrogant athletes with enough money are able to hire the best lawyers to get them off. Happens every day in America, where the only places fairness seemed to exist were our ballfields and stadiums.

Now even those basic fairness principles that are supposed to govern our games are undermined. Because just like the best lawyers in the world, the best chemists in the world aren’t working to catch cheaters, not when it pays better to work for them.

“It’s a day of celebration for us,” Hardin said Monday. “Let me tell you something: Justice won out.”

Congratulations, Rusty. You got your high-profile client off. You turned Pettitte into a reluctant witness, sad for the loss of his friendship with Clemens, and you managed to discredit Brian McNamee, who never had much credit to begin with.

But whatever doubt you sowed among those jury members, you did little to erase the doubts many of us still have about your client. You enabled Clemens to walk away a free man Monday, not guilty of any charges. In many of our minds, though, Roger Clemens is guilty — guilty enough to never be enshrined in Cooperstown.

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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